published Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Officials: At least 5 dead in Tennessee flooding

By ERIK SCHELZIG

Associated Press Writer

MEMPHIS, — At least five people died and hundreds were being evacuated Saturday as heavy rains pounded Tennessee, causing widespread flooding across the state.

The forecast called for more rain through the weekend.

The five deaths were storm related, but the exact causes were not yet known, Jeremy Heidt, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, said Saturday evening.

Hundreds of homes had been evacuated and shelters were being opened across the state for people stranded due to flooded roads. Heidt said crews were called out for swift-water rescues from Nashville to Memphis.

“It’s so widespread, it’s a very serious concern,” he said. The deaths were in reported in Stewart, Davidson, Williamson and Carroll counties, he said.

The southwestern part of the state was extremely hard hit, with several Memphis-area streets declared impassable. Memphis received 10 inches or more of rain during the day and officials were warning that 4 to 8 more inches could fall overnight and into Sunday.

Corey Chaskelson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a levee had been breached along the Big Creek River in Millington. He said 4 to 5 feet of water had flooded 200-300 homes at the Naval Support Activity base in Millington.

“Water rescue of people from their homes is still ongoing,” he said Saturday evening.

Emergency officials in Shelby County said hundreds of people were being evacuated due to high water, including residents of the Navy base and inmates at a federal prison.

Bob Nations, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, said most of the roads into and out of Millington had been cut off by flooding.

“Our weather forecast says we could get 4 to 8 inches tonight,” he said Saturday evening.

At the Baker Community Center in Millington, where a Red Cross shelter has been set up, retiree Joe Curry, 74, said he and his wife were rescued from their home in a boat Saturday morning after the water had risen to 7 feet.

“It rose so fast we couldn’t get out,” said Curry, who spent the day at the Red Cross shelter until family members could pick him up. “It’s a mess.”

Jerry Fritts of the Red Cross said about 100 people were expected to spend the night at the Millington shelter. “So many roads are blocked that some people have waited all day for their family to come get them,” Fritts said.

Waters were washing away parts of roads and bridges in the Jackson area, said Marty Clements, director of the Jackson-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

“We’ve basically become an island because the major highways and roads are cut off,” he said Saturday evening. “We can’t get in or out.”

Clements said there have been gas leaks and water main breaks due to the flooding and both area hospitals were running on generators temporarily during the day.

He said emergency officials have asked all events be canceled on Sunday, even church services, to keep people from trying to venture out in the floodwaters.

Charles Shannon, a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department, said one person drowned in flood waters on Interstate 24 south of Nashville.

In Nashville, emergency responders had rescued 50 people from flooding, Mayor Karl Dean said at a news conference Saturday night. Police Chief Ronal Serpas said two police officers had to be rescued from a tree.

“It is only going to get worse as the night goes on,” Dean said.

A group of Shelby County firefighters on a rescue call ended up having to be rescued after their truck flipped on its side after being swept up in flood waters, Shelby County Fire Department spokesman Brent Perkins told WMC-TV.

Segments of Interstate 40 were closed between Nashville and Memphis. Pooling water in the median and along the sides of the highway gave some sections the appearance of a causeway.

The National Weather Service said up to 12 inches of rain had fallen along areas of Interstate 40 since midnight and up to 6 more inches was expected through Sunday.

———

AP Writer Kristin Hall in Nashville contributed to this story.

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